Melville district, but white spruce becomes increasingly common inland (Plate V). The white birch (Betula alba var. papyrifera) is a very common tree, and in tracts that have been burned over it has taken possession of the ground to the exclusion of all other trees. The largest specimens were seen where they occurred sparingly in forests of black and white spruce.
Where the birch constitutes the whole of the forest, as it commonly does in burned-over tracts, its light-green foliage distinguishes it at considerable distances from the darker evergreens. The forest colour effects vary greatly with light and distance. Under a grey sky the black spruce forests are nearly black in the middle distance, dark green in the foreground, shading off into deep dark blue in the distance. Under a half-clouded sky the forested mountain slopes are marked with blotches of dark blue on a field of light green, the colour scheme changing constantly with the shifting of the clouds. In some cases at the finish of a shower a spruce-covered island, rainbow arched, will furnish a picture not easily forgotten. Labrador has been described as a land of rainbows ; the dozen or more showers a day experienced on many days during the summer of 1921 seem to justify the title, and in such seasons protect the forests against forest fires.
Any traveller in a Labrador forest soon becomes aware of a carpet of sphagnum moss into which he sinks, in many places to his knees. If the sphagnum moss be absent, it is commonly replaced by caribou moss. Where the trees are not too closely spaced the ash-grey of the caribou moss gives a colour contrast with the dark green of the black spruce, visible at a considerable distance. The rolls of partly detached bark which hang about the trunks of the large birch trees give them a curiously shaggy appearance. The white or dun-coloured trunks of the birches, which are sprinkled sparingly through many of the spruce forests, relieve the monotony of these sombre-hued trunks. Where the spruce trees have their maximum development they reach a height of from 75 to 100 feet. These forests “ are of the very darkest hue of green and down their hoary, moss-floored isles ” sunlight has little chance to penetrate.
Nearly everywhere the white blossom of the Labrador tea is seen during July. As its blossoms fade the dark pink Lambskill takes its place, decorating the woods with a profusion of delicate colour throughout the latter part of the summer. About the first of August the half-ripe, low-bush cranberries begin to show rosy cheeks above the moss, and a little later the rich, dark purple bearberries spread a feast of delicious fruit and ravishing colour on the grey, rocky summit of every hill and mountain. The wild currant, crowberry, and bake-apple are among the other refreshments which the forests set before their visitors. Alder and willows generally form the forest 40 border along the streams. The fragrant-leaved sweetgale is also frequently seen about the margin of the forests.
The principal trees in the approximate order of their abundance in Lake Melville district are :
Black spruce (Picea mariana BSP)
White or canoe birch (Betula alba var. papyrifera)
Tarmarack (Larix laricina Koch.)
Balsam fir (Abies balsamea Mill.)
White spruce (Picea canadensis BSP)
Balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera L.)
Yellow or grey birch (Betula lutea Michx f.)
Aspen poplar (Populus tremuloides Michx.)
White and black spruce, and fir are the trees which have been used for lumber in the region. Both the white and black spruce reach a large size in many localities. The following figures indicate the character of some of the larger trees in these forests. On Mulligan river a black spruce 5 feet 6 inches in circumference 20 inches above the ground was measured. Another black spruce on Kenemich river measured 9 feet 10 inches in circumference. Its fine, straight trunk appeared to be 100 feet high. The black spruce here probably reaches a greater average size than in Nova Scotia. At the head of Grand lake a spruce which had a diameter of 25 inches was noticed in the driftwood. A white birch on the Kenemich measured 5 feet 1 inch in circumference. These figures represent a few of the largest trees, but many others nearly or quite as large were seen. A large proportion of the forest trees approach these figures sufficiently closely to furnish a large supply of logs suitable for lumber. There are vast quantities of smaller timber on the mountain slopes, which will no doubt be used eventually for pulpwood.
The shores of lake Melville are bordered by a considerable area of relatively flat or slightly rolling land on which the best timber is found. On the mountain slopes much smaller trees occur.
Grand lake, which is about 40 miles long, lies northwest of lake Melville and empties into it. It is without any lowland border, the mountain slopes descending precipitately on the west and by gentle slopes on the east. Extensive forests of fine timber about this lake are reported to have been destroyed by fire about 35 years ago. Considerable areas of birch furnish the only conspicuous evidence of these fires at present. At Cape Blanc, which is a steep-sided mountain rising from the lake side, the scars of old avalanches are plainly visible. In some of these the timber and soil have both been stripped completely from the mountain face. In others the succession of birch in the midst of a black spruce forest, bounded sharply by perfectly straight lines, tells the story of an old avalanche.
On Naskaupi river and Red river the broad sand and clay terraces support a better forest growth than Grand Lake basin. Mrs. Hubbard, who traversed the entire length of the Naskaupi, reports one of the trees on the Naskaupi to have a circumference of 9 feet. She states that ¹ “ the valley is mostly well wooded with spruce and balsam as far as Mabelle island and here the spruce reaches splendid size.”
The best forest in Lake Melville region is reported to be located back of Mud lake on the south side of Hamilton river. A considerable amount of lumber was cut around the west side of Goose bay a few years ago when
¹ Hubbard, Mrs. Leonidas, “ Labrador from Lake Melville to Ungava Bay,” Bull. Am. Geog. Rev., vol. 38, 1906, p. 533.
sawmills were in operation. Fairly large trees grow along both banks of the Hamilton as far up as Muskrat falls.
The writer’s observations did not extend above Muskrat falls, but according to Low, a good forest growth is found up Hamilton river as far as Hamilton falls. He states ¹ that 150 miles from the mouth of the river “ the trees on the slopes about the falls are largely white spruce upwards of 70 feet in height.”
Upper Limit of Trees. Elevation is only one of the factors controlling the upper limit of trees on the mountain slopes. Steepness of slope, relative amount of soil, and the direction towards which a particular mountain side faces are other factors (Plate VI). The size of the trees invariably decreases with elevation and near their upper limit many of those which persist maintain their positions only by taking an attitude approaching closely to the horizontal. In the heavy forests that border English river on the south shore of lake Melville, the upper limit of upright trees is 815 feet. Horizontal trees continue up to 900 feet, but above this the mountain is barren.
Future Development. Examination of a map ² of the distribution of North American forests will show the very important rôle which Labrador will probably play in supplying forest products for the world market of the future. Lake Melville and Double Mer waterways are of peculiar importance in this connexion, because they afford about 200 miles of navigable waters which are usable by sea-going vessels. These water-ways include lake Melville, Grand lake, Double Mer, and The Backway. This penetration of the heart of the best of the Labrador forests by deep waterways must become an important element in keeping transportation costs at a low figure.
Canada is destined by its geological and geographical features to remain permanently the great forest country of North America. Compared with the area of the great forest belt extending from the Labrador coast to the Pacific, the widely scattered forest areas to the south of it appear insignificant in size. Lake Melville may reasonably be expected to become in the future one of the important eastern outlets for the forest products of the eastern part of this vast forest zone.
Only a few of the more conspicuous or better known animals can be mentioned in a report having the scope of the present one. Most of those observed belong either to the seashore fauna or the fauna of the forested interior. The majority belong to the latter fauna.
By far the most abundant mammal in the region is the Labrador lemming. This ubiquitous little creature is equally abundant on the islands of
¹ Grenfell, W. T. and others, “ Labrador : The Country and the People, ” 1910, p. 153.
² Zon, Rapheal, and Sparhawk, W. N., “ Forest Resources of the World,” vol. II, 1923.
Hamilton inlet and in the interior. It may be seen in numbers everywhere darting rapidly along its tunnel- like runways, as a rule more or less open at the top, from one bit of cover to another. It no doubt affords an important source of food supply to the predatory birds and some of the fur-bearing animals.
Sharply contrasted with the general distribution of the lemming is the coastal distribution of the polar bear. Though reported to be rare in the region, a few are taken along the coast. Its distribution seems to be sharply limited to the coast. The writer has heard of no cases where the polar bear has been taken west of Rigolet. The skull of a specimen taken during the season of 1921 on one of the islands in the eastern part of Hamilton inlet was seen by the writer at Indian Harbour.
Practically all the fur-bearing animals, with the exception of the seals and white foxes, are confined to the forested interior, where nearly all the trapping is done. These include the mink, marten, muskrat, weasel, beaver, otter, lynx, and fox. The red, white, cross, and silver varieties of the fox are taken.
The otter, beaver, and groundhog were observed during the summer, and a specimen of the latter was killed near the head of Double Mer.
Ducks were seen in The Backway in flocks numbering thousands. Loons and gulls are common on lake Melville, but characteristic sea birds like the guillemot are not found on the waters of lake Melville.
Toads were seen at Northwest River and green frogs were taken at Mud lake. Specimens collected were identified by C. L. Patch as Bufo americanus (American toad) and Rana pipiens (Leopard frog).
The harbour or freshwater seal (Phoca vitulina) is abundant in the river, lake, and sea waters of the region as far west as Muskrat falls. The largest number of individuals seen at any one locality was just below Hamilton falls, where about fifty were observed at one time.
The cod is unknown in The Narrows and the waters west of them. Cod fishing is confined to the waters adjacent to the islands in the eastern part of Hamilton inlet. Commercial fishing in lake Melville and the western part of Hamilton is confined to salmon fishing.
The grampus whale may be seen daily near Rigolet. In many places two or three were seen together and at times the caplin on which they feed were observed in numbers shooting out of the water just before the surface was broken by the curved back of a grampus following the school. This whale, although very conspicuous east of Henrietta island, was not seen west of that island, during the summer. It no doubt at times extends its range for short periods into lake Melville, but the normal habitat seems to be in the saline waters east of the lake.
It will be seen from these notes that typical marine animals like the guillemot, grampus whale, and cod are unknown west of The Narrows, the cod not even extending into The Narrows.
The people of “ the coast of Labrador ” and the adjacent interior belong to four groups. These are the Newfoundland fishermen, who spend only the summer on the Labrador coast, the Eskimo, the Indians, and the “ liviers.” It is the cod fishermen from Newfoundland, and his picturesque shack always located on the shore, that first catch the eye of the visitor from the south. The largest group of these fishermen is located at Indian Harbour, the headquarters of the cod fishing industry.
The salmon fishing industry which is, after cod fishing, the most important summer occupation, is carried on chiefly by the “ liviers ” in the waters of lake Melville and The Narrows. The salmon catch is shipped from the interior posts, Rigolet and Northwest River (Plates VIII and IX).
The region was divided originally between the Indian and the Eskimo, the former holding the interior, the latter the coastal strip. The Eskimo (Plate IV A) are now nearly extinct in Hamilton Inlet region and south-ward, although Holme ¹ reported in 1887 that they were “numerous ” in Hamilton inlet. The territory formerly held by the Eskimo was approximately the same narrow shore zone now occupied by the Newfoundland and French-Canadian fishermen, but all the vast interior river and lake region belonged to the Indian. When the white man first came to the gulf of St. Lawrence, the Eskimo held the narrow seacoast strip as far west as Mingan, opposite the western part of Anticosti island. The acquisition of firearms from the French enabled the Indians, in 1600, to drive the Eskimo eastward to the strait of Belle Isle. Since then he has retreated very slowly to his present southern limit at Hamilton inlet.
The Labrador Indians belong to two tribes, the Montagnais of the south and the Naskaupis of the north (Plates X and XI A). Hamilton River and lake Melville form in a general way the boundary between the hunting grounds of these two Indian groups. About seventy-five Indians, representing both tribes, came under the writer’s observation during the summer of 1921. In religion all the southern and eastern Indians appear to be Roman Catholics. They were encamped in their dome-shaped canvas tents at Northwest River and pendant crosses were much in evidence on some of them. The following observations on the Indians who were encamped for a few days near the trading post at Northwest River are quoted from Mr. William B. Cabot,² who has unequalled knowledge of the psychology and customs of these people.
“ The group I was with last summer, known as the Northwest River Indians, have at any rate a good deal of Naskaupi blood, and some member-ship of actual Naskaupis. Their affiliation is quite with the latter, the regular Montagnais not mixing with them. You may have noticed that
¹ “ A Journey in the Interior of Labrador ” : Proc. Roy. Geog. Soc., vol. X, p. 190, 1888. This statement is open to question, since Davies, writing in 1842, states that “ they (the Eskimo) are now reduced to eight families, though they had numbered upwards of 300 ” as late as the beginning of the present century. (Trans. Lit. and Hist. Soc., Quebec, p. 89, 1843.)
² Personal letter, Nov. 21, 1921.